October 15th, 2020
EPISODE 5: Anti-Racism or Anti-Bias?
This week, our panel includes VP of Research, Practices, and Consulting Khalil Smith, DE&I Practice Lead Ester Neznanova, and Senior Consultant Camille Inge. Together, these NLI experts explore the nuances between racism and bias, discuss strategies used to detect and mitigate bias, and explain how you can build an anti-biased organization where better systems enable smarter decision-making.
[00:00:05] GB: How many people die from shark attacks every year? About two. How many from mosquitoes? About a million. The difference, one is memorable, terrifying and extremely rare. The other is quiet, subtle and ubiquitous. The same can be said about racism and bias. Racism is in your face. Bias, which we can think of as subtle and unconscious preferences is largely invisible. The difference may sound like semantics, but being clear about what we’re trying to accomplish is critical for marshaling our resources, aligning our intent and creating sustainable change.
I’m Gabriel Berezin and you’re listening to Your Brain At Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Frida. This week, our panel features VP of Research, Practices and Consulting, Khalil Smith, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practice Lead, Ester Neznanova and Senior Consultant, Camille Inge. Together, the panel explores the nuances between racism and bias, discuss strategies used to detect and eliminate bias and explains how you can build an anti-biased organization where better systems enable smarter decision making. Enjoy.
[00:01:26] KS: Everyone, it is wonderful to be with you. Ester and Camile, I’m excited for this conversation, “I’m excited for us to be able to dig in and continue to really unpack quite a bit. For those of you that may not know NeuroLeadership Institute, I think that is probably a small percentage of the folks that are listening right now, given that we have so many return visitors and so many folks that listen to our podcast week over week, and we appreciate the dedication, and the constant participation.
We’re a cognitive science consultancy, and we’ve been around since 1988. Our goal very simply is making organizations more human through science. We do that as a research driven- leadership institute. We’ve got lots of intellectual property and we operate in a lot of different countries. We’re very, very fortunate to work with over 50% of the Fortune 100, and lots and lots of smaller companies, and up and coming companies and, startups and all sorts of other folks that are trying to get a handle on any number of things that are happening in your businesses, and with your employees, and with your strategy, and your clients and your customers and everything you can possibly imagine.
What we’re going to talk about today is something that our CEO and Co-Founder Dr. David Rock and I wrote about just a little while ago, and it is this idea of really kind of marrying, or understanding, or differentiating or weighing the idea of anti-racism, which we know has been very much in the popular press and it’s an amazing best-selling book. It is really anchored on this idea. What we would almost kind of call potentially anti-bias or bias mitigation. Where do each of those play? Where are they really beneficial in an organization? Understanding that we all have limited resources, whether financial resources, cognitive resources, time, anything else that we can possibly imagine. Where do we feel like you may get the biggest return on those said resources?
Part of what we want to do during our time together today is just to pull that apart and to better understand it. We’re going to talk about that. I’m fortunate enough to have both Ester and Camille here with me as they both work tirelessly with clients and write about this. We have an incredible team of researchers at NeuroLeadership Institute that are constantly digging through the research, and understanding what’s coming out, and really keeping us honest around what is out there, and what should we be doing and how do we stay really true to this. We’re going to try as much as possible to avoid over generalizing, because there’s a lot of research and it is kind of pointed in a lot of different directions.
We could spend days, or weeks or months pulling apart just these ideas, and there are incredible authors that have done, and incredible PhDs and researchers that have done just a tremendous amount of work to really dig into this. But what we want to do is equip you, right? That’s what we always do at the NeuroLeadership Institute, is to kind of marry the research with the practical application.
Camille, maybe first and foremost, I’d love for you to maybe just talk to us a little bit about what can we anchor on for this particular conversation as it relates to some of the difference between bias and racism. Give us something that sink our teeth into there?
[00:04:43] CI: Sure, Khalil. For the purpose of this discussion, thank you for setting it up that way. We could go back and forth and we have debated back and forth for months. But in its simplest essence, bias tends to be rather unintentional, where racism tends to be more intentional. I’ll go into a bit more detail. Bias is the default, automatic, unconscious process of pattern detection and sense making, of decision making. It’s goal is just to conserve cognitive energy and take shortcuts as much as possible, so you can sustain yourself throughout the day. There are over 150 distinct biases, and if you don’t mitigate them, they will most likely affect any and every decision that you make for better or for worse.
When it comes to racism, as you said, there’s a vast array of scholars who have devoted their lives to this, and everyone can have their own definition of it, the way that they’ve experienced it, but there’s no universal definition. Linguistically, it’s very tricky because it’s incredibly vague, right. So race is just a construct used to categorize people of similar ethnicities. Originally, it was much more sinister, it was for a hierarchy of intelligence. But it’s just a constructive categorization. And the suffix ism just means, it has to do with that thing. It doesn’t give us much to work with, but here is where we can anchor generally. Racism tends to have this level of intentionality and actively held beliefs that we can judge people differently based on their race. Or as bias as this unintentional behind-the-scenes mechanism of preference, that we do acknowledge there is a gray area in between for sure.
[00:06:25] KS: There’s a lot of gray. And to your point, Camille, we have absolutely debated this internally as well. I don’t know that we will land on a definition, but I think for the conversation that we want to have, I love what you just pulled apart. And to help us understand the kind of intentionality, potentially around racism this conversation, and then the unintentional consequences of bias. We have done lots and lots of research around bias and there are different types of bias. So we’ve really, really anchored in that space. When we talk about being a research-guided organization, we’ve done lots and lots of research around bias and are continuing to do more of that research around race and racism.
I think one thing that could potentially be helpful, because Ester, I would love to hear from you in a moment around what you’re seeing in organizations and where organizations are dedicating their time, and effort, and energy, and resources.
[00:07:17] EN: Overall, there’s has been a big movement from organizations towards doing either one or another, because it is very obvious right now for leaders that not saying anything means being complacent, right? That is actually surprising to me, because as you know a lot of CEOs and leaders have reached out to us and saying, “Okay. We have to take a stand. How do we actually do that properly?”
When it comes to what other organizations are doing, some of them are actually focusing on becoming proactively anti-racist. Whether it is updating their policies and really looking at what anti-racist programs might look like or educating the employees, educating the leaders around race. Or giving some training around experimental areas of understanding what racism is, and how you actually experience being discriminated against based on your race.
I will say that a month ago, this was very, very active. And now, thanks also to your subject matter expertise and a lot of other amazing voices, Organizations are starting to move from reacting initially to actually acting and thinking about what can we do long term. That’s where we’re moving into talking about unconscious bias, because — we’ll talk about it in a minute.
Another big area of opportunity that I’m seeing is around the social justice movement. So chief diversity officers are actually being asked to take on another role, which is literally leading social justice movements. And a lot of them are now starting to think about, “Okay. What does that look like for my organization and whether it is around community support and reaching out to the communities where we’re serving more?” Which for overall diversity, equity and inclusion programs is actually really beneficial because we’re moving away from diversity, equity and inclusion being compliance to it being a strategic imperative and actually thinking about, “Okay. Actually, we need to look at supplier diversity in terms of what businesses we’re supporting and which of those come from underrepresented communities.”
We need to look at how we’re serving our communities and what are some of the actions that we’re taking to proactively help shift overall perceptions, education gaps and all of the other essential elements.
[00:09:49] KS: Yeah, love that. Camille, I would love to come to you and I’m going to bring the slides back up, because I know one of the things you wanted to talk about is kind of this next element. So you did a beautiful job of articulating how kind of bias and racism in our construct can be separated out. One around kind of intentionality and potentially the other at times being a bit more unintentional or unconscious. There was something else that you spoke about, but bias might be less visible in many instances. Whereas racism might be more apparent. We’d love for you to speak to that and maybe walk us through an example of what you mean.
[00:10:24] CI: Yeah, I mean a lot of the work in anti-racism, so Dr. Kendi’s book, bestseller. Many of you may have read on the line. It points us to the importance of inspecting systems for evidence of racism, because the systems are what perpetuate our habits, which reinforce our beliefs, et cetera. Which we’ll talk about more soon. If you actually try to do this you might find it’s rather hard. I can’t imagine personally how you would see racism in a modern corporate process, such as talent acquisition. It would wind up being rather apparent and shocking, and probably not last there for that long.
Bias lives in anything that a human creates, even algorithms in a computer can be biased. And they’re definitely harder to see, but they are swaying the outcomes of our decisions at times drastically in terms of how diverse your organization winds up being, how inclusive it winds up being, et cetera. But thankfully, we have found a way to make bias more visible, which some of you may be familiar with. Our research team a couple years ago went through all of those 150 unconscious biases and categorized them into five categories that have very similar mechanisms. They all look very different, so they’re less visible until you have that lens, that decoder, if you will.
That’s the SEEDS model of bias. You can actually use that to comb through a system and find evidence of bias. Where you might not be able to actually see if there’s any racism in your system, you can do it with bias with this model. I can show you an example. This is an excerpt from a real talent acquisition process in the job opening and sourcing phase, and you might read this. And if I were to ask you, find racism in this system. Candidates can be added by employees using refer a friend to a job feature. Okay. The recruiter can send them an invitation to apply, reference check, optional. I don’t see it.
But what we can do is use this model, the SEEDS model, which can lead us to pick people who are more similar to us, similarity bias over those who are different. Expedience bias, going with our gut instead of being more intentional and deliberate in our decisions. Experience bias, just maintaining the status quo. Distance bias, the people who are closer to us rather than those who are farther away. And safety bias, these instincts to protect ourselves from potential threats. Someone who might not be a culture fit, might create some noise in the organization.
Those things, if we learn those well, we can actually go back to the system, to the process and spot. Well, when we say candidates can be added by employees using refer a friend to a job feature, that starts to illuminate similarity bias. Refer a friend, that triggers you to think of who’s in my in group rather than who might be the best fit for the job, and et cetera. We could go into detail, but anything that has a start date and end date, a very specific time constraint. That can trigger an expedience bias where you go with your gut as I said before, as oppose to taking the time to consider all of the possible options/
These are the kinds of things that have a big impact that you can comb your system through to mitigate in the system, such that it then affects your habits, and then it affects your beliefs, and that affects your community around you.
[00:13:52] KS: Awesome. Thank you. A little bit of a plug. Many of us have read it, How To Be An Antiracist by Professor Ibram X. Kendi. It right up there on the bestseller list and has been for quite some time. A really I think deliberate and intentional exposition of his own experience, and also the experience of race and racism, and just really, really smart in a lot of ways. So definitely worth reading.
Similarly, I think Camille to your point, part of what we’ve seen is that opaqueness of trying to identify, well, why was this decision made, why does this leader have certain demographics on their team but this other one doesn’t? And where we can look for bias, where we can eliminate that from processes, where we can use shared language. There’s a lot of power in being able to do that. So, instead of trying to get into people’s intentions or understand, we can look at more of the outputs. That work you were just looking at or referencing that coherence analysis, we’ve done that with a number of organizations that have said, “We’re just trying to figure out why we’re not getting the outputs that we want.”
There can be any number of reasons why, right? Any number of variables. What we found is that being able to isolate or identify some of those biases and then correct for those things really deliberately, really intentionally, really consistently can and does produce better outcomes. So Ester, in a moment, I would love for you to talk about kind of the system piece of some of this. But any reflections based on what Camille was just talking about or what you’ve been experiencing in this space of really looking for bias.
[00:15:30] EN: Yes. What resonates for me, Khalil is, you and I have had a lot of conversations around some of the findings from us holding the listening sessions and the focus groups with black indigenous and or people of color over the last two months. It has been obvious as for a while, but it is becoming obvious for organizations that the main challenge is not necessarily, again, going back to it around racist remarks within the organizations. The main challenge is that, people of color don’t get hired at the same pace. They don’t get promoted at the same pace and they don’t feel like they have equal opportunities or actually feel included within the organization.
That goes back to, if we start looking at all of the processes, I think a big revelation for a lot of companies nowadays is that actually, when you walk into an office or onto a virtual office nowadays, you don’t leave your prejudices aside. They’re actually part of the organizational climate. So we need to make sure that from the systemic standpoint, we optimize the systems to mitigate unconscious bias, and through that, increase equity much more within the organizations.
[00:16:47] KS: Well, I think that’s it. A natural segue into one of the things that we’ve also been spending a lot of time talking about, thinking about. Because in essence, a lot of what we’re talking about is culture change, right? It’s identifying there’s a thing that is happening in our organization that we’re not happy with and we want to change that thing. We want to figure out how do we do it more effectively or more differently.
I think there’s also something to be said for, like what can we control, right, essentially within our own four walls. So to your point, lots more of organizations are saying, “We’re actually going to work outside of our four walls as well.” That is absolutely incredible and you’ve been a huge advocate and support for a lot of folks that have said, “How do I do that? Where do we lean in? How do we get work done?” And yet there are also the things that even smaller organizations are saying, “We don’t have $100 million to donate to this” or “We don’t have the resources to be able to do this other thing. What we’re trying to do is really optimize the experience within our organization and to solve for some of those things that you’re describing that come up in listening sessions or come up in other things.
We’d love for you to talk people through, and I think many people will be a bit familiar with the way that we talk about priorities, habits and systems and culture change in that way. But I think this conversation doubles down on the idea that that’s really relevant, and really valid and really important as we’re thinking about bias mitigation as a whole and how that has an impact in addition to or in contrast to becoming more of an anti-racist organization. Maybe if you can talk us through priorities, habits and systems, because I think that it marries to what Camille was just talking about in terms of looking at the processes, looking at the systems. What are these three elements?
[00:18:28] EN: Definitely. So when we talk about culture transformation, we need to focus both on priorities, habits and systems equally. The priorities part is really the goals and challenges that the organizations has and wants to achieve. But in order for us to follow through on those goals or on those priorities, we need to make sure that we instill the right types of habits within the organization and then support those through the systems. Let me just explain what each element means as we talk about unconscious bias.
From the priority standpoint, the first part is, being able to establish the right goals to drive the change, but it is also getting the leadership buy-in. So once you decide where your organization stands, it is important to get all leaders on board and get their buy-in. It’s is also important for them to own their own narrative within it. So to educate the leaders around how to really be achieving those goals. The second important element when it comes to priorities is understanding how do the employees actually hear what you’re saying. How do we make sure that it doesn’t get lost in translation once we share it with all of the employees?
From the habits standpoint, it is moving away from education that is just around awareness and making sure that the training that you’re giving is actually focused on giving tangible habit formation skills, in order to be able to activate better behaviors. When it comes to mitigating our unconscious bias, it is really making better decisions daily, where the change really happens. It’s not necessarily about creating awareness around bias. Awareness is good and it’s not enough, and we’ve written a lot about it.
The last part here that is also essential is the systems, and the systems is pretty much the canvas and the ecosystem of your organization. That includes your talent management systems, that includes your business systems, that includes all of your diversity, equity and inclusion systems or how you communicate to each other. So within it, if we don’t look at how the systems are reinforcing or going against the habits and the priorities, the habits just won’t stick. So within it, every leader can take responsibility in looking at the systems that are within their control. If you’re building products, start looking at where exactly unconscious bias shows up, or you build products for yourselves and your team much more than for all of the customers and communities.
I know that a lot of technology companies are really looking at exploring that area. If you’re in supply chain again, how do you make decisions around diverse suppliers, how are supporting communities. These are your business systems. And of course, overall talent management systems within your organization and in your line of business. You need to start really questioning and wondering where might unconscious bias show up in order to drive for systemic transformations.
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[00:22:34] KS: Are you aware of any equity assessments that can be used in large orgs? So the first one that kind of jumps out to me is the NeuroLeadership Institute does does have an organizational climate survey, organizational climate assessment that we use either SEEDS or SCARF. I would love if maybe one of you could speak a little bit to what that is meant to accomplish or or how we’ve used organizational climate surveys to better understand the experience that people are having in an organization.
[00:22:59] EN: I would love for Camille to talk about organizational climate surveys, but before we go there, I just want to talk about equity in general, right? I talk to CEOs and CDOs all the time and give briefings to them around inclusion. I think that one of their biggest aha moments and insights is understanding that inclusion is not just culture, right? So we say, inclusion, belonging, power dynamics, equity.
Where in reality, what we talk about in NeuroLeadership Institute is that, equity, or fairness, power dynamics or status, right, as well as making sure that you belong within the organization is actually all part of inclusion. That’s why we use inclusion framework called SCARF that stands for status, which is really power. Certainty and autonomy as ways for you to be able to be in control around your outcomes. Then relatedness, which is really that sense of belonging, and fairness, which is really equity. So I think that we need to start rethinking how we approach inclusion in general, because equity is actually an essential part of feeling included. There’s going to be no inclusion without equity.
Camille, on to you regarding —
[00:24:16] KS: That SCART connection is I think a very powerful tie-in to some of the organizational climate surveys.
[00:24:23] CI: Yeah. I admire our measurement team, they put together some of the great work. They’re researchers and analysts and they’ve put together an organizational climate survey, that will survey your employees and I think three different domains. One is psychological safety, so hearing right from them what is the sense that they feel safe enough to take risks, make mistakes, that they feel like they belong, if they’re included. That does follow the SCARF model, it’s a validated assessment.
There’s also one on growth mindset and one on bias, I believe. Someone will keep me honest in there. But it’s a great way to hear right from your employees what they perceive to be the level psychological safety, which would include instances of fairness in there, and then use that to inform of course a strategy for how to resolve that.
[00:25:10] KS: Camille, I would love to come back and I think one the places where we’ve had a lot of debate, a lot of really incredible partnership from our research. I mean, honestly, I continue to get educated every single time I have conversations about this and I talk about it a lot. So I’m constantly feeling like, okay, here’s something I didn’t know, here’s a term I didn’t know, here’s a thing that is really kind of being pulled together. Is this balance between one of the other things that we call, this idea that racism isn’t biological, but a lot of bias is.
Again, we take kind of these sharp contrasts in terms of saying one thing is or isn’t. We know there’s a lot of research in multiple dimensions. And yet, for the simplicity of being able to do something in an organization, to really take something, boil it down to its real essence and its constituent parts and then say, “So here’s what we’re going to do with that.” Part of what I believe that I’ve seen through the research and through the language is that, you know race, and you spoke about this before a little bit, Camille — is largely a sociological construct and I’d love for you to kind of talk a little bit about that. Then if it is sociological, why it’s not biological and why maybe bias is a bit more biological, or a lot of the bias that we tend to think of or talk about is a bit more biological, and why that distinction is useful.
I just asked you like 17 questions all in the same question, but take that and run with it as you see fit.
[00:26:37] CI: Yeah. Racism is not biological, it is a learned belief, learned behaviors that follow it. Race itself is not biological. That is a construct as we said, that was invented usually with mal intent. It having biological grounding that is not true, but the idea that it did, justified a lot of really bad behaviors. Like it’s okay that I treat these people as if they’re subhuman, because biologically they are. It’s been proven. The way that we swat a fly without batting an eye, we think it’s okay. They’re beneath us.
Learn that it’s false is incredibly dangerous. Understanding that it’s something that’s learned, I think gives me a little bit more hope that it is something that can be unlearned, or it’s something that we can ensure that we teach the next generation very intentionally otherwise. But bias being biological, it does set up a little bit more of a roadblock there, but there are ways that we can surpass just its survival benefits, like it does help us in moments of like fight-or-flight to make immediate decisions that could save our life. But of course, it can also lead us to make decisions that damage somebody else’s life in that moment.
So it is really important to understand why bias exists, how it works automatically in the brain and what sorts of preventative measures you can put in place to stir your brain on, steer your brain onto a different set of tracks, whether it’s through event plans, which I’m sure we’ll talk about at some point. Actual preventative measures like in your Odysseus article. Putting beeswax in your ears so you’re not lured away by the sirens and crash your ship. But we can really deeply understand it because it is a biological concept, which means we can make it a little bit more tangible and adapt accordingly.
[00:28:28] KS: What you’re describing, Camille and again, one of the things that has been pulled apart and we’ve talked about it, is that there are absolutely parts of bias, parts of the way that we see our world, which are also sociological, right? They’re the magazines that we read, and the movies that we watch, and just the culture that surrounds us. And yet what SEEDS is really meant to capture are those cognitive biases, those evolutionary biases that you’re talking about that don’t excuse the behavior but do help to explain the behavior.
What both of you are describing in terms of, well, we can focus on the systems to help kind of extricate or mitigate some of that bias. We can focus on our habits, we can raise awareness, we can do all of these things. But ultimately, in order to be able to do something about it, we talk quite often about this idea that we need to accept that brains are biased, we need to label that bias using shared language, and then we need to mitigate that bias using really clear and research-backed plans and processes.
When we look at each of these biases and recognize, as Camille you walked us through the kind of talent acquisition process to say, “Well, wait a second. When we’re doing this, we may be creating this type of sub-optimal outcome. So how do we look at our outcomes, how do we look at our inputs, how do we evaluate all of that through the lens of bias and recognize that these biases are influencing. As you said Camille, every human process that is out there. And the more that we can recognize and Ester, you said this previously, that part of what people are asking for, what we hear people asking for so often is not.
And I love the fact that most of what we deal with in the professional world is not what we would refer to as outright racism. But when we talk to people that say, “Hey, I changed my name on my resume, and all of a sudden started getting more responses back” or “I have a work name and my actual name.” Right? Because I recognize that my actual name may lead me to not get a call back on a particular resume” or “I have to be cautious about the way that I speak because I know that I fit a certain demographic and people view me in a particular way” or “I’m never kind of lifted up for these opportunities, and I know for a fact that my performance is at the same level as some of my peers.”
To your point, Camille, it’s hard to see and there may absolutely be some really malicious intent behind those things. But in the vast majority of instances, what we’re seeing is that it’s biased, right? It is people not knowing that they’re making bad decisions or not recognizing that the outcomes are not where they should be. I think we need to continue to investigate it, and pull those things apart and recognize which of these are happening. But recognizing that we have a limited amount of resources. Is there one of these things that is contributing to more than the other?
Ideally, the kind of giveaway, let’s solve for both, right? Like let’s eliminate both of those things, let’s mitigate both of them. But where can we focus some of our time, and our energy and our attention.
[00:31:27] EN: I wanted to bring in so many thoughts that are very similar. To talk about a little bit about the global audience, right, and expanding a little bit beyond the United States, and also expanding a little bit beyond what’s currently happening in the United States when it comes to the social justice movement. And that I think is also a point around when you’re talking about unconscious bias, especially when you’re talking about similarity bias. The mitigation strategies for it is actually finding commonalities.
Then in global organizations, solving for unconscious bias is actually solving for a lot of different racial challenges that exist within different countries. We’re not talking here about the US specifically when it comes to anti-racist or when it comes to anti-bias. And when you’re focusing on building the strategies and we have a lot of global organizations around mitigating conscious bias is actually creating the proper foundation in order to really remove systemic bias no matter what country and what race we’re talking about. That being said. we actually need to pay attention to what’s happening in the United States and how important it is to talk about the experience of people with color in this country.
So curious what comes up for you, Khalil here when it comes to the global challenges versus the US and really the focus needed there/
[00:32:59] KS: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a great question and I think to your point, I’ve had amazing opportunities to work with global companies that have done work in a lot of different spaces. And part of what I’ve always loved about the neuroscience is, in a lot of ways it operates cross cultures. So the things that we’re talking about whether those are organizational climate surveys or SCARF or SEEDS, they’re not specific to particular demographics, particular generations, particular kind of groups of people.
There are absolutely differences across cultures. there are differences across groups of people, there are differences across organizations. And yet, there are lots of similarities and things that we can identify and see similar trends and themes across a lot of what we’re describing. We also see the conversations that are happening right now around race, or around bias, or around bias or around prejudice or around stereotyping are not isolated to the United States, right? We’re having conversations around indigenous peoples in Australia and Canada. We’re having conversations around former slave or roots owners in the UK and the Netherlands. We’re having conversations around femicide in Mexico.
There are lots of different challenges that countries and organizations and global organizations that work across countries are having. What we’re all trying to figure out is, so what do we do about that, how do we help to solve for some of that. That’s part of what this conversation is about, it’s recognizing that there are very particular things that we can do. I’ve heard people say before, there’s no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot. There are collection of things that we can do to say, “Well, if we do this, and this, and this, and that, and if we learn from these things, and if we bring in the science and understand the way that we tend to react, and understand what others have gone through.”
And in some instances, if we reject what has traditionally been conventional wisdom because conventional wisdom has not always worked, right? If it did, we probably wouldn’t still be having some of the same challenges that we’ve had for 30, or 40, or 50 years or 400 years or however much longer you want to go from there. So knowing that — I personally take a lot of comfort in being able to have really great conversations with our scientists that say, “Listen, I don’t have all the answers” but this is giving us a guiding orientation. It’s pointing us in a particular direction, and we can try, and iterate, and experiment, and evolve. That can and should be done across cultures, across countries and across populations and demographics.
[00:35:27] EN: I love that.
[00:35:27] KS: Camille, what would you add?
[00:35:29] CI: I would echo that regardless of the identity that we’re talking about, whether it’s race, whether it’s sex, whether it’s sexual orientation, et cetera. The core of it is that in any society, you’ll find power differentials. So some group or set of groups will have an asymmetric control over resources. It’s the systems that are put in place that tend to perpetuate that, to make that acceptable and to make it very hard to combat at. It just points back to whatever you’re trying to solve for in terms of creating more equity, more fairness, more justice.
You do have to turn to those systems and inspect them for ways that they are self-perpetuating, that they are keeping people outside, not being able to have a voice, not being able to change the direction of the society, or of the organization or the culture. So just to loop it back to that, that it is a very pervasive and broadly applicable.
[00:36:24] KS: One other thing that I kind of want to bring up that we’ve talked about in the article and we’ve talked about it quite a bit internally as well. This idea that, and again, I say tens because we can always find instances where this is not the case. Camille, you brought this up earlier that inside of organizations, it tends to be challenging to find a system that is anchored in racism, right? There are absolutely individuals and not always difficult to see from time to time, who may be operating with a particular skewed viewpoint. And yet, what you’ve seen and Ester, I would love for you to speak to this as well. That bias tends to influence both individuals and systems.
Camille, you were talking before around algorithms, and systems, and processes. Ester, you were talking about kind of this marriage, the priorities, the habits and the systems. When we think about bias influencing individuals and systems, talk to us a little bit about — first, Ester, maybe come to you. What does this mean to you when we say something like racism tends to influence individuals, bias tends to influence individuals and systems?
[00:37:30] EN: We had an amazing conversation, was it last week at Your Brain At Work when we talked about the leaders buy-in and the challenges with just focusing on the culture, right? But just point blank, if you have a lot of bias within your systems and your processes, then you’re not going to be able to build products to launch services or to be successful long-term. We have so many examples of this, starting with technology companies — we’ll not name them, launching computer vision, computer vision technologies that they worked on for over 10 years and then realizing that they can’t recognize people of color.
Whether it is a lot of issues from the fashion houses that lead them to the front page of New York Times. These are massive examples, but really, when we start looking at the systems and it includes business systems within the organizations, you cannot build products or services if you don’t have diverse teams and if you’re not representing your customers.
My previous job was in corporate innovation and I got so tired of walking into rooms and having yet another set of four white male explain to me how women shop. You can’t do that and that is such a simple example that we all need to realize, that it really infiltrates a lot of systems. Then another big challenge is that we talked about a lot is, non-diverse teams feel much more comfortable. So you have a very low attrition rate, let’s say, I hire a bunch of my friends. I love spending time with my friends. I can talk to them forages and we come up with great ideas and we all have same backgrounds and we launch those products. That’s all fine and nice.
Yet when it comes to productivity, when it comes to innovation, and when it comes to fairness really, we need to invest in diverse teams. And it’s harder to be productive within the diverse teams initially, because it’s much harder to generate common ideas. But they’re so much better that there is a very, very direct and objective impact on the business when you’re increasing diversity.
I just wanted to ground us on that first, because we’ve been talking a lot about culture and I think that organizations really need to realize why diversity is important to them.
[00:40:05] KS: I think, one of the things that is useful is to continue to anchor back on — there are absolutely kind of the things that happen in a society that we should all be paying attention to, and we have had those conversations, and talked about it. Then there are things that happen in an organization, right? There are times where those things are going to wind up being different. So when we look at racists systems, you can absolutely find racists all across the world, right? Systems that were really, really anchored in this idea that one group is better than or less than another. It is very challenging to find any publicly traded company where you could find a system that you could look at and say, that is a clear — at least as far as I’ve seen.
Again, I’m always learning happy, for people to kind of raise something and say, “Hey, Khalil, you haven’t seen this thing.” But from my view, what I’ve seen with so many organizations is people saying, “I don’t know why we keep losing X demographic of people” and then you look at their process and you see, “Well, because we’ve define success as this,” and that whole group of people don’t match what you’ve identified. Then they say, “Oh my gosh, we never thought of it that way” or “We never considered that” or Camille to your point, recruit a friend.
Ester, as you were saying, “A lot of my friends think very similar to me, right? They have similar backgrounds to me. I met them when we were relatively young.” So while that may absolutely be done with the best of intentions, it is creating sub-optimal outcomes. The more that we can kind of go back to the intent, go back to the output, look at those systems and really run them through with a different lens, the better off we are.
So I think we have to be able to separate out the kind of environmental sociological kind of what happens at government or any government across the world. And what’s happening in for-profit companies or even non-profit companies and how do we solve for some of that. We will continue to it on NeuroLeadership institute. Look us all for both of those things. And yet. the vast majority of people that are coming to us and asking for input are not running whole countries, they’re running departments, they’re running teams, they’re running companies where they’re saying, “We want to do better and we just haven’t yet been able to figure out how. And part of what we’re putting forward is, this is a bit of that how.”
[00:42:22] EN: And I think to that point, Khalil, especially in bigger organizations that we also see lot in looking at their systems and looking at their employee data is that they’re actually not quite thinking about all of those systems cohesively as an actual employee experience. So then, the leaders keep receiving that data saying, “Oh, this is the attrition and it’s slow, and here are the promotion rates for people of color, et cetera, et cetera.” But we don’t look at it in terms of an overall employee experience. And when we start looking at, okay, for instance, black women get promoted at X rate overall in the company. But when it comes to a director level, they stay in a position for seven years. Whereas white people stay in the position for a year and a half, right?
Once we start looking at it in terms of individual and their individual experiences, there is a very, very different picture that we’re seeing. So when we look at it from kind of like a bird’s eye view in talking to those organizations, we need to shift how we see all of these processes. And we also need to start owning the experience of employees within our teams.
[00:43:38] KS: As a part of what I hear you saying is this idea that there are these like thousands or tens of thousands or millions of instances that are happening that are the bias, Camille, that you were talking about before and that you both walked us through. One of the analogies that I’ve used from time to time is this idea that there are some things that are very salient, that are very memorable, that are very in your face. And that there’s an example to be made between kind of shark attacks and mosquito or shark deaths and mosquito deaths. Shark deaths are about 10 people a year. And of course, we want to solve for those. Of course, those lives are important.
And yet, if we focus more on that and miss the hundreds of thousands of lives that are lost in mosquitoes, we unintentionally put more effort in a place that is very visible, that is very interesting, that is very salient, that is very memorable as opposed to the thing that may be happening behind the scenes that we just kind of started to accept as a norm.
I would argue that the kind of guidance around focusing on racism, again, let’s get rid of it, right? Let’s absolutely and Ester, you and I were talking about this the other day. There have to be policies, there have to be procedures, there has to be clear-cut information that these behaviors are categorically unacceptable in our organization. And yet, if we do that and don’t focus on the bias that is negatively influencing all of those examples that you both have provided around people moving forward, people being promoted, people being recognized, people feeling included, people feeling like outcomes are fair and equitable. Then we’re missing something in favor of another.
So ideally, let’s marry both and solve for both of those things. But it should not be that we are over anchoring on the thing that may be more memorable and missing the thing that is actually having arguably a massive and substantive effect on the vast majority of our employees.
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[00:45:38] GB: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producer is Danielle Kirshenblat and Cliff David is our production manager. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky and logo design is by Ketch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.